On face value this is a brilliant idea. The market for simple retro games is huge as old gits like me look to relive their childhood when computing happiness was a few blobs for graphics and simple bleeps for sound. So, why not release an iPhone app which emulates one of the favourite 8 bit computers - the Commodore 64 - to cash in on that market?
In fact, the producers of this game have hit on an even better scheme. The app itself costs £2.99 and comes supplied with a number of free games. To play the remaining (better) games, you need to buy them as in-app purchases at a further cost of 59p each.
This might seem a bit of a rip-off since you can download Commodore 64 emulators (and games) freely from the web. Even so, I was looking forward to being able to play old favourites on the move on my phone, rather than being tied to a computer.
Initial impressions were favourable. A loading screen shows you a nice little image of a desktop containing a picture of a C64, bringing an instant blast of nostalgia. In the app proper, things still look good. The games you currently have available are displayed in a wood effect case taking up most of the screen. Across the bottom of the screen are several options which are self-explanatory, although I'll just draw attention to a couple.
My Games: The default screen, described above. All credit to the app's creators on this one, because rather than forcing you instantly to pay to have to download some games they provide a generous number (currently 11) for free. Nor is it a case of giving away the rubbish games and charging for the better titles. Some of the free titles are classics that will bring memories flooding back for C64 owners - Bruce Lee, Attack of the Mutant Camels and International Soccer to name but three. Click on the Run/Play button next to the game title and the selected game loads up.
Next up there's an old Commodore C64 logo, which appears a bit superfluous. Clicking this simply boots up the last game you selected, or if you've not yet played anything just tells you to go away and select one. I suppose it offers a quick shortcut back to your game if you've been on one of the other screens, but I rarely use it.
Clicking on the Shop button gives you a list of all the games available for this app (both paid and unpaid). Once again, there's no faulting the selection, with classics like Uridium, Paradroid, Sensible Soccer and Wizball all downloadable for the bargain price of 59p each. Currently there are 18 paid-for games available in this way, with more added on a fairly regular basis. The complete collection of all currently available games will cost you around a further £10 - similar to the price that just one of them would have cost you in the 1980s ... although you might want to read the rest of this review before you start splashing the cash.
The app also comes with integrated OpenFeint support, so you can upload your scores and compare them against those of other players. This is completely seamless and is one of the best implementations I've seen, so again, hats off to the developer for that!
The emulation of the games themselves is actually pretty good. Faithfully represented in terms of both graphics and sound, they load quickly and run very smoothly with no annoying display glitches or lag in the action. At this point, I was getting very excited and starting to plan which of the additional games I would buy first.
It's here things start to go downhill. On selecting a game, you are taken to a screen where a graphical representation of a great big joystick and a great big fire button take up around three quarters of the iPhone's screen. The actual game display is cramped into a little space at the top, making it really difficult to pick out the graphics and work out what you are meant to be doing.
Turning the phone into landscape mode is better, as the play area is enlarged and the joystick becomes a "ghost" one, accessed from anywhere simply by touching your phone's screen. Even so, the small size of the screen means everything is still pretty small and some of the detail in the graphics is lost (something which can be fatal when playing some of the titles).
It was when trying to actually play the games that all my hopes were cruelly dashed. The controls that have been implemented are absolutely appalling, rendering every single game completely unplayable. The theory behind it is simple. You touch the on-screen joystick with your finger and drag it in the direction you want your character to move. Press the fire button to fire - and that's it! Yeah. Good luck with that.
Many of the titles available for this app (both paid for and free) require a fine degree of control and the ability to react quickly to an approaching enemy and this app simply does not offer that. Trying to get the joystick move in the direction you want with any degree of precision is akin to trying to drive a car with flat bald tyres across an ice rink at 65 miles per hour with the driver sitting in the back seat. They are without doubt, the worst I have experienced on the iPhone. Trying to make any sort of precise move is impossible and whether or not the on-screen character moves in the direction that you requested is entirely down to luck. It's also hugely unresponsive, with a lag of 1-2 seconds between you making the move and your character responding. Even if you get the app to understand the direction in which you want to move, by the time it's carried out your instruction, the chances are you'll be dead (in the game, not in real life - it's not that slow!). At the end of the day this app is about playing games and however good the presentation and game choice might at the end of the day, the one thing you can't reliably do on it is play games... Or at least play games and enjoy them.
Sadly, these cripple this app. Even at a cheaper initial download price I couldn't recommend it. I was actually lucky enough to download the basic app when it was free for a limited period and tried the free games first, so I've never actually spent a penny on it. Even so, I feel slightly ripped off by it! It's a case of a really great idea let down by really lousy implementation.
© Copyright SWSt 2010